The House of Kennedy

By James Patterson and Cynthia Fagen

Little, Brown and Company | 2020

Reviewed by Salli Stevenson

James Patterson

James Patterson’s Alex Frost books, filled with a “sharp intuition, beat ‘em up” “explore the depths” style of crime novel, has made him among the top five crime writers in the world. Lately, he has been working closely with a select few co-writers, training them to write good commercial books.

The question is, has this training endeavor hurt Patterson or his style of writing? If the House of Kennedy is an example, the answer would be that the training has not hurt, at least not in this collaboration.

Other partnerships have produced quite readable mysteries, some have proved more palatable than others. A few are more formulaic, one or two are pedantic and there is an edge missing from that found in his solo works. Maybe it was time for a change in direction?

The House of Kennedy, a history of the Kennedy family from the days of the Irish Potato Famine to today’s generation, is that change in direction chosen by both Patterson and his current co-writer, former New York Post journalist Cynthia Fagen.

Though there have been many books on the “Royal” family of the United States. The focus has been mostly on Jack and Bobby and the drama that pertains to the assassinations and the rougher portions of political life in our country. The challenge for our two authors was to make the book relevant, important to Kennedy researchers, conspiracy theorists and fans.
How to do that?

Patterson/Fagen have chosen to add family and friends’ memories (both sad and glad) into their narrative structure. Some have only been released to the public in the last decade through letters, diaries and notes earmarked for release “at a later date.”

Politics and the charisma of both men led to affairs, including one with Marilyn Monroe, which Jackie Kennedy handled brilliantly by inviting Monroe to take over her duties as First Lady. That cooled Monroe’s ardor. However, it did not improve the relationship between the presidential couple, caused by numerous affairs until son, Patrick, died in 1963. After that, everyone around them noticed a new closeness between the two that lasted until the day Jack was killed. There are many tender, funny, happily competitive moments caught in this book that I have not seen in others and for this reason alone, this book is a valuable addition to the Kennedy biographies and memoirs.

The other noticeable difference from most Kennedy books is the removal of most of the conspiracy theories behind Monroe’s suicide, Ted’s accident, and both Jack and Bobby’s assassinations. We are given the single shooter story of Oswald, and Sirhan’s mad man shooting of Bobby. All other points of view are largely ignored. Only the basic facts are given for everything that affected the ability of Jack, Bobby and Ted to play out their delegated chores in politics. If you’re researching the Kennedys, it wouldn’t hurt to include this in your research, as a guide for more complicated projects, reports and PhD theses

Overall, The House of Kennedy proves a good choice for a change in direction by Patterson/Fagen to historical journalistic themes. Written in a fluid page turner, it reveals some lovely side notes, a huge compendium of sources, some laughs, “just the facts, ma’m” and a feeling of being on the inside of the Kennedy circle.

Salli Stevenson is a new writer for Neworld Review

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